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Buttigieg Urges Return To 'American Values' In Campaign Visit To Maine

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign event, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Portland, Maine.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg revved up a capacity crowd at the State Theatre in Portland Thursday, in the first of what's expected to be a series of visits from White House hopefuls to Maine. The South Bend, Indiana mayor touched on an array of topics, but his 40-minute speech centered on a return to American values, which he says begins with ousting President Donald Trump next year.  

Buttigieg began his remarks with a litany of pithy broadsides against Trump, mocking his quixotic - and now fleeting - interest in buying Greenland, and Trump's comments to reporters earlier this week that implied that a divine power had picked him to solve trade disputes with China.

"We got folks not sure if they can afford to buy groceries and prescription drugs at the same time and a president who's more occupied with buying Greenland -- doesn't make any sense," he said. "We've got a president who literally thinks he is the chosen one."

Buttigieg's charisma and rhetorical style have made him a go-to interview for cable news shows, and he's sparked intrigue, despite being just one of more than two dozen Democrats vying for the party's nomination next year.

His speech at the State Theatre was  short on policy specifics. But the crowd of roughly 1,800 people who filled the steamy auditorium didn't appear disappointed as the former military veteran talked about a return to American values, and what he described as a "new normal" needed to confront the existential crisis created by Trump's presidency.

 "And a message that says 'back to normal' isn't going to work because normal hasn't been working," he said. "Normal hasn't been working in New England, hasn't been working in the industrial Midwest where I live. It's time for something new. It's time for a new normal. And that's what we're here to deliver."

Buttigieg's swipe at the old normal appeared to be aimed Vice President Joe Biden, who polls show is the front runner in the crowded Democratic field.

Averages of national polling by Real Clear Politics show Buttigieg is among the top tier candidates, but still well behind the three frontrunners: Biden, independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts.

National observers have pegged Buttigieg's inability to join top-tier candidates in the polls with skepticism of his candidacy among black voters, a critical segment of the Democratic primary electorate.  But he has proven to be a prolific fundraiser, pulling in more than $32 million so far.

And  his message was well-received on Thursday, particularly when he name-checked Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, one of the Democrats vying to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins next year.

"And I hope your able to deliver on that. I hope you're ready to make sure Sen. Gideon is able to cast that vote for a common sense majority leader in Washington. All right," he said.

Buttigieg concluded his speech by emphasizing the need for a hope, an ideal he says has recently gone out of style, but is desperately needed now.

And he hinted that he might return to Maine again, an indication that other presidential hopefuls may do the same now that the state will hold primary elections instead of caucuses, thanks to a new law passed by the Legislature this year.

That primary will take place March 3, also known as Super Tuesday because more than a dozen other states will do the same.

Originally published 5:41 a.m. Aug. 23, 2019